Where is the support for sexual violence survivors from Māori, migrant and rainbow communities?
The funding crisis in sexual violence services has a disproportionate impact on the communities that need help the most.
We need to reach 10,000 petition signatures in support of full funding for sexual violence support and prevention services by next Wednesday. Will you add your name?
Ashley Judd, Cara Delevingne, Rose McGowan — just a few of the celebrities whose courage in confronting their powerful abusers has prompted people across the world to share their own stories of sexual violence using the #metoo hashtag.
Here in New Zealand, survivors’ support organisations report increasing numbers of people seeking help for recent or historical sexual assaults in the wake of the #metoo movement.
Yet some voices are still missing from the conversation.
People from marginalised communities — such as the Māori, migrant and rainbow communities — are more likely to experience sexual violence, but have few services set up to support them.
And when they approach mainstream sexual violence organisations, they may be retraumatised by services that aren’t designed to meet their needs.
A system in crisis
New Zealand’s support system for sexual violence survivors is in a permanent state of crisis, the result of a broken funding model and decades of under-resourcing.
But while mainstream services are starved of funding, our most at-risk communities are even more under-served.
Russell Smith is co-director of Korowai Tumanako, a kaupapa Māori service designed to support Māori who have been affected by sexual violence.
“Māori are up to twice as likely to be affected by sexual violence as non-Māori, so it makes sense to provide kaupapa Māori services for them,” he says.
“We need more kaupapa Māori services, and more funding for the few that already exist.”
Russell is a spokesperson for Nga Kaitiaki Mauri, the national network of specialist sexual violence prevention services. The network has four kaupapa Māori services, which Russell defines as having Māori governance, Māori management and an understanding of Maori clinical practice.
Kaupapa Māori services have up to 10 different funding streams each, yet the money adds up to very little in total.
Kaupapa Māori services “running on hope”
Russell believes the current system for allocating funding is heavily pro-Western, with many contracts recognising only those providers who use Western clinical approaches. Providing services the Māori way is a disadvantage when it comes to competing for funding.
For example, says Russell, some Western models of practice assume all perpetrators are high-risk, while kaupapa Māori services see them as “whānau first”.
“The people we work with often can’t afford a 15-minute bus ride, so we travel out to their homes and have a cup of tea with them in their community,” he says.
“When someone from a mainstream sexual violence service does an assessment, they might meet with the perpetrator and maybe one support person. We’ll meet with up to 50 people, providing education and support to the whole community, yet we’ll be paid the same.”
Russell says there are doors that will only open to him because he is Māori.
“These people are my family. We share the same blood. The work I do is not a burden; it’s a responsibility, and I’ll keep doing it whether I’m paid or not,” he says.
“What keeps me working in this sector is hope. When I run out of hope, I’ll have nothing left to offer.”
Breaking the silence for refugee and migrant survivors
Refugee and migrant survivors face an extra barrier to seeking help — a ‘double silencing’ around sexual violence.
Mengzhu Fu is national youth coordinator of Shakti Youth, the youth wing of Shakti, which provides family violence services to women of Asian, African and Middle Eastern origin. Mengzhu says that in many cultures it’s common for marital rape to be seen not as rape, but as a husband’s entitlement to have sex with his wife.
One of Shakti’s counsellors recently estimated that over 70% of the women she had seen had experienced sexual abuse, but often it was not recognised as sexual violence in the context of a marriage.
As sex before marriage is taboo in some cultures, some single women who have disclosed rape to their parents have been made to marry their rapists.
The issue of forced marriage is strongly connected to sexual violence and rape culture, with some young women forced to marry much older men. In Auckland alone, Shakti has recorded 80 cases of forced marriage over the past eight years, although Mengzhu says cases of forced marriage — like the rates of sexual violence — are heavily under-reported.
“Most of the young women we see who have experienced sexual violence have struggled with mental health problems. Self-harming and suicidal ideation are common. Some have left their partners and families, and some have had their communities turn their backs on them because they’re seen as runaways,” says Mengzhu.
Language, cultural differences and isolation can make it difficult for survivors of sexual violence to ask for help, especially from mainstream services. Some survivors also depend on their abusers for residency in New Zealand.
Even when survivors do report and ask for help, the response from institutions or the police are often inadequate to keep them safe and hold perpetrators accountable, says Mengzhu.
“The racist misogyny that migrant and refugee women of colour face from mainstream society makes it even more difficult to disclose when immigrant communities are already under xenophobic scrutiny.”
Shakti has five refuges: two in Auckland and one each in Tauranga, Christchurch and Wellington. Police refer 200 people to the Wellington refuge each year, yet it has never won a government contract.
“The underfunding of services predominantly for and by women is part of the patriarchal devaluation of labour associated with women. Our workers are struggling with the rising costs of living. Like most organisations that work with the survivors of sexual or domestic violence, we are criminally underfunded,” says Mengzhu.
Saving lives in the rainbow community
Members of the rainbow community — lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people — are more likely to experience all kinds of harm, including sexual violence, says Gender Equal NZ programme lead Sandra Dickson.
“One of the issues in smaller communities is confidentiality: everyone is more likely to know everyone else. There may be victim-blaming, and people don’t always want to draw attention to someone in the community who might have harmed them,” says Sandra.
“Gender and sexuality diverse people are frequently pathologised when they go to mainstream services. For example, they may be told they’re queer or trans because they were sexually abused. They may be turned down completely if they are trans or gender diverse.
“When people have an experience in a mainstream service that is retraumatising, there’s nowhere else for them to go because there are no specialist rainbow services.
“All of these factors make seeking help a complete lottery for the rainbow community.”
The Hohou Te Rongo Kahukura survey found the rainbow community wanted to feel safe and well-supported when they sought help from mainstream sexual violence services.
“We often hear about the impact of stigma and discrimination on suicide rates in the rainbow community. Sexual violence is rarely mentioned in the conversation, but I think it’s part of it. So providing better support could save lives,” says Sandra.
Join the fight
ActionStation is campaigning to end sexual violence for good.
Providing adequate government funding for sexual violence support services — particularly in the communities that need it most — is a critical first step. It’s one of three ‘asks’ in a petition we’ll be delivering to Green Party MP Marama Davidson next Thursday.
We’re aiming for 10,000 signatures — will yours be among them?
To join the fight for our safety, click here to sign the petition and share it with your friends and whānau.